When his third-grade class was asked to write letters to U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia, J. Alesandro Kendall declined.
The freckle-faced 8-year-old also told his teacher at Brehms Lane Elementary School in northeast Baltimore that he didn't want to donate candy or food to a gift box the students were readying to send to the troops. He politely explained that he is a pacifist and does not support the Persian Gulf war.
Soon, a rumor about Alesandro burning an American flag started among his schoolmates.
Then fellow students started to pick fights with him.
"One boy has been trying to fight me for three days," Alesandro said. "This has made all the other people in my class have violence toward me. Really, all I'm asking is to give peace a chance."
Alesandro says that he loves his country but that war is wrong. Last month, he marched in Washington to protest the war. He's marched for other social causes.
Yesterday Alesandro marched with a group of 100 in the International Day of Student Action peace protest in front of the city Department of Education on North Avenue. He wore a tweed suit with anti-war buttons pinned to the lapels. One read: "Victim of Trust."
"I have my own opinions," said Alesandro, whose parents live in ** Belair-Edison. "The teacher wanted us to write a letter to the soldiers and thank them for defending us. But to me, the only thing she's promoting is war.
"My father has been telling me all my life that no war is moral unless we are defending ourselves, our families or our homes. He taught me to never use violence. Now everybody in that class is against me."
Joseph Kendall, Alesandro's father, went to Brehms Lane last week to speak with the principal about the problem. The father said Principal William Koutrelakos told him he respected the boy's pacifist views and asked Alesandro to report any further problems to his office.
Kendall also said he has written Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke protesting the "promotion of war" in the schools by teachers.
"This is causing a great deal of stress for him," Kendall said of his son. "It's hard to be on an unpopular side. The other parents who have not taught their kids the difference between right and wrong, their kids are looking at him in a different way. He's pretty tough, but I can see that he's not as anxious to go to school as he used to be."
"I treat my son as an adult, like a rational human being," Kendall said. "We talk about all these things. He's a very bright boy."
But the scorn of his peers over his anti-war stance is something Alesandro is having difficulty understanding.
"Now I'm really used to it, but everybody's trying to fight me," he said. "It's just an everyday thing with me."